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Dec. 1, 2022

Bringing energy to light - Economics doctoral student spotlight Elise Breshears

By Katie Frey

Headshot of Elisa Breshears.

Elise Breshears is an economics doctoral student in her final year of the program.

"As an applied microeconomist, I use data and empirical methods to answer policy-relevant questions in the fields of environmental economics and urban economics," she said. "My research examines how institutions and policies influence the ways individuals interact with the built and natural environment."

She came to the MSU Department of Economics after working in the energy sector where she developed interests in the electricity market and energy efficiency.

"I decided to pursue a PhD so that I could develop a toolset to study questions around these areas of interest," she said. "Because of this, I prioritized technical training, both within applied microeconomics and econometrics, when applying to graduate programs. Michigan State University excels at both of these areas, and it was the strongest department among my options. This, in addition to the relationships that I developed with graduate students and faculty members during the application process, made Michigan State University my top choice."

Because Breshears likes to study the impact of policies on individuals at a local level, her dissertation is based on a housing policy in Portland, Oregon, where she grew up. This policy requires homeowners to publish an energy assessment in real estate listings when selling a home, and she studies how buyers and sellers interact with this assessment.

"I also study changes in energy efficiency across time, looking at homes that were constructed between 1900 and 2020," Breshears said. "In doing so, I also consider the role of historical housing policies in the development of the housing stock."

In her other research, she studies Michigan policies such as the impact of the Step Forward Michigan program that provided foreclosure assistance to vulnerable households following the Great Recession. 

"I also examine the impact of LED street lights on crime and traffic accidents in Detroit," she said.

As she reflects on her final year in the program, she feels an appreciation for the relationships she developed along the way, especially among the other students in the graduate program.

"I have spent a lot of time working with and learning from students in the program," she said. "For example, we host graduate student seminars, where students can present their research in a casual setting, receiving feedback from other students. It is through these interactions that I really developed as an economist."

Breshears also enjoyed interacting and collaborating with other faculty and students outside of the graduate program. 

"As a member of the Environmental Science and Policy program, I have worked with students in engineering, natural sciences, and social sciences on local, community-based projects," she said. "I am especially grateful for my time working as a research assistant for Dr. Noah Durst in the School of Planning, Design, and Construction. It has been a rewarding experience to be able to apply the skills that I have learned as an economist to other disciplines. This position has introduced to many new research areas, including fair housing, land use, and transportation policies."

Breshears is also a member of the Women Economics club and a member of multiple intramural sports teams. She appreciated her colleagues inside of her program, but also found it refreshing to have a balance of interacting with people who are not economists.

For students considering the MSU Economics doctoral program, Breshears recommends interacting with existing graduate students and faculty members prior to making a decision.

"Similar to other institutions, the graduate program is demanding and, for many people, it will be a long five years," she said. "What makes the graduate program not as demanding is the relationships that you develop along the way. These relationships will carry with you beyond the program as well. So, I would encourage students to ask current students about their experience to see if they could see themselves in the same atmosphere."

Breshears believes the training that she received at MSU is versatile and allows her to pursue many different career paths. 

"Since I am interested in continuing to pursue policy-relevant research, I am actively seeking positions within academia and government,” she said. “I am also seeking out positions within the energy sector."

To learn more about Breshears and her research, teaching and experience, visit